Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

Probe into fire at busy Morrisons


About 50 firefighters tackled the flames

An investigation is under way into the cause of a large fire at a Cumbrian supermarket, which broke out while the store was busy with Christmas shoppers.

Morrisons at Penrith was almost destroyed by the fire, thought to have started in the pharmacy area on Thursday evening.

About 50 firefighters battled the flames, which were extinguished in the early hours. No-one was injured.

Fire crews said the store's evacuation procedure worked "exceptionally well."

The alarm was raised at the Brunswick Road store at about 1745 GMT and the town was soon covered with a plume of black smoke, according to residents.

Fire at Morrisons
About half the roof of the supermarket was destroyed

Carl Fallowfield, who lives nearby, said: "I would say the flames were about 15ft high, licking up over the roof area and all around the sign on the front of the store, with thick black smoke bellowing out.

"You could see the debris starting to drop down into the store as well."

Cumbria Fire and Rescue was faced with a "very large fire", said spokesman Bob Nixon .

"When our crews arrived they were confronted with a rapidly developing fire within the roof space.

"It proved very difficult to gain access, and our priority was to stop it spreading from the building and to protect the building as much as possible."

Homes nearby were evacuated and Penrith Leisure centre was used as an emergency shelter.

Residents in the town were also advised to stay indoors because of the smoke billowing across the town.

Aftermath of Morrisons fire
Structural engineers are examining the damaged building

The fire was brought under control after several hours, and firefighters left the scene at about 0400 GMT.

Store manager Jackie Mills said her priority was now to the supermarket's staff.

She said: "We're setting up a base at the Players Theatre which is next to the store, and any staff who are available today can make their way down and we'll talk to them about the future."

Ms Mills confirmed that all staff would continue to be paid, and would be provided with employment at Morrisons in Carlisle and Kendal until the Penrith store's future had been established.

She added: "A big thank you to the firefighters who did an absolutely incredibly good job yesterday controlling the blaze.

"They've saved half the store at least and it was all thanks to their bravery and hard work."

A structural assessment of the building and a detailed investigation into the cause of the fire is under way.

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